SANDY, Utah — In the battle of first place teams from the Western and Eastern conferences, Sporting Kansas City scored a deep stoppage time goal by Ike Opara on a corner kick to beat Real Salt Lake 2-1 at a sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium Saturday night.
It took about 13 seconds to realize how emotional and physical the game was going to be between the top contenders. There is no love lost between these two. RSL defender Chris Wingert plowed into Kei Kamara just after the opening whistle as a ball floated toward the pair. Both ended up in a heap on the ground and Wingert received his first caution. It took a couple of minutes before Kamara was able to return.
It is a bit of a weird phenomenon that two teams that have met only one time in each of the past two seasons could have such animosity, but it was present, and things were chippy.
Robbie Findley put RSL ahead in the 56th minute with a header after Sporting 'keeper Jimmy Nielsen misplayed a ball in the box. But things really changed when Wingert was sent off in the 66th minute for a second yellow.
Less than a minute after he was sent off for his, KC capitalized on a ball sent into the middle that RSL failed to clear. After a scramble in the box, Claudio Bieler was able to head the ball forward to Soony Saad, who whirled and hit the ball into the net from inside the goal box.
RSL worked hard to preserve the draw, but in the seventh minute of stoppage time, Opara rose up high on a great ball sent in to the box by US standout Graham Zusi.
The battle of the two styles — high pressure by Kansas City versus possession by Real — didn't come to fruition in the opening half. The KC high pressure certainly was evident, but with that immediate pressure, RSL found that the best attack was putting the ball behind the advanced back line and letting their speedy forwards Joao Plata and Robbie Findley try to get in behind.
Sporting's continual pressure was paying off as they were getting a ton of balls whipped in to the middle for header attempts. When they lost the ball in RSL's end, they quickly pressured and forced plenty of back passes to keeper Jeff Attinella, who was getting his first MLS start and looked rather shaky on his distribution.
The young goalkeeper did his part to keep things even, however, right after the halftime break. KC's Saad had some nifty moves just outside the area before putting a shot it in low that appeared headed for the lower-right corner of the net. Attinella did well to get down and parry the ball away at the last moment.
The ensuing corner also appeared the visitors may take the lead. Opara hit a header toward the right post, but the shortest man on the field, all 5-foot-2 of Plata was able to head it away.
It was only a few minutes later that Findley opened the scoring.
Both teams return to action next Saturday as Real Salt Lake travels to face New York and KC will venture north to face the Impact in Montreal.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Robbie Findley||Despite the losing effort, the Real Salt Lake striker was the best player on the pitch in his 69 minutes.|
|2||Soony Saad||After starting off slow, the Sporting striker had a skillful side-volley in a scrum to even the match.|
|3||Ike Opara||With tension rising late in the contest, the defender put aside the antics and put in the game winner.|